– Illustrative Narrative Extracts from The Body and Leadership
This is a story about conflict and the search for peace. It’s about movement, division and union. It’s a true story about dreams and a dream of a true story. While living it I went insane, got beaten-up over a thousand times and was drunk out of my skull for the first half of it; so please don’t get upset if I misspelt your name. The story journeys through years and continents, sex and violence. Its heart is the body, the strange martial art of aikido and the stranger characters that practice it. Our story begins in the middle, on an island fairly far away:
The Body of Hope and Adventure
- April 14th 2005 – Nicosia, Cyprus
With clear intent and little outward sign of nerves I lead an unlikely group out of the once luxurious hotel, now United Nations fortress, into the last of the afternoon’s sunshine. The dusty heat of the Cypriot day is settling into a beautiful evening. With me are a gaggle of Arabs, Americans, Serbs, Jews and other ethnicities from waring countries around the world. Most of them met for the first time a few hours ago and the conversation was…a little tense:
“I’ve been taught my whole life to hate you.”
“I almost didn’t come here, and I’m still not sure that meeting you is a good idea.”
“Don’t take my picture – if my neighbors knew I was here they’d kill me.”
Curiosity is averting disaster so – we’re riding that and the stubborn kernel of something inside that wont die. After the lives of some of these people it’s a small miracle that it’s still there…and in another light a necessity.
Walking carefully behind me the XXXXX – making nervous jokes with some Israelis now – things are looking up. With regal bearing and classical English they are easy to like. They carry themselves proudly but without arrogance. The two teenagers they’ve bought along are open, with less baggage than most of us here, and the only people younger than me I’d guess. They’ve been some of the first to start mixing and it’s gotten the ball rolling. It reignites hope which could be the word that’s venturing out for air. I’ve been hiding behind cynicism since some bad things happened a few years ago, but it’s hard not to feel hopeful today.
Another arab group nearby look tired but cheerful. They’re earthier than the Jordanians and move like tanks – big, jovial and kinda square looking. They’re tired because they had to drive for 48 hours before they could get a plane here and there was a border closure. (“We drove around the country that wouldn’t let us in. !!!!” Big angular balls – they make me smile). When they’d arrived earlier there was a mini party at the hotel. I greeted them with the few no doubt badly pronounced Arabic words I’d learnt in Tunisia, and was surprised to see a familiar face. I knew **** from England, where he’d lived for a couple of years – it’s a small, weird little world and having this group here is a coup.
The small American bearded film director scurries in front of me closely followed by a Greek-Cypriot camera crew. I smile which is genuine and try not to look like I’m shitting myself which isn’t. They pan round and catch Paul Linden right at the back, like the director he’s small and bearded, a humble man whose left arm trembles with Parkinson’s Disease but looks like he’ on a county stroll and nothing in the world could bother him. He’s a master of embodied training and the Parkinson’s is one of God’s sicker jokes. He actually seems to find it funny and wise-cracked about it when I tried to ask sensitively what it was at dinner last night. He works a lot with trauma survivors through the body, and something about his just engenders trust. We need that now.
Everybody’s checking each other out like it’s the first day at ninja school. We have different religions, cultures and languages and oh, and most of us have trained for years to be lethal martial arts machines capable of taking-out a room full of people barehanded. I remind myself what a powder-keg I’m merrily dragging along and wonder again if maybe this whole project is a bad, bad idea? Why hasn’t it gone horribly wrong already? Too late for that we’re way over the Rubicorn. I shake my head and do my smirking thing, it’s just nerves on my periphery – the centre says yes.
Walking out of the Ledra Palace the British UN soldiers smile back under their sky-blue berets, bemused stubbled faces, but professional and upright as ever. They’ve been friendly all day, scanning us for bombs, checking passports and asking me to translate, “What your bloody Yank boss is saying.” Having had a girlfriend from our wayward colony I speak conversational American so this is easy enough. The squaddies stationed here are mostly younger than my 25 years – disturbingly so in fact – working class kids with regional accents who probably wanted to see the world, or just not the bastard at Newcastle Job Centre again.
They’ve just come back from a part of the planet which none of them want to say more than a few words about – Iraq. “Difficult” was mentioned when I asked an officer. The teenage privates used the words “fucking” and “horrible” when I asked them, and the aged sergeants just shrugged and looked away sadly. I can tell everyone’s relieved to be here in Cyprus, a veritable holiday by comparison. Ironically the second largest UN contingent here is from Argentina – old Falkland and football enemies keeping the peace together – someone at the UN HQ in New York must be stupid or clever. Maybe they’ve just having a laugh – I’ve seen people that work in nuclear power plants and stock exchanges playing sillier games to pass the time.
As we walk out past the sun-winking razor wire, I remember coming into the Ledra for the first time last year. I’d felt like James Bond meeting my contact and being ushered into the decaying bowls of the once luxurious UN command center. Before the ‘74 war this was the fanciest hotel on the island – now it’s home to several hundred British soldiers – their drying underwear and football flags draping its lavish but battle-scared balconies. Since it was redecorated with bullets and rocket propelled grenades the army has really let the place go. The UN don’t seem to have the budget that the tourists hotels in the south do, but the pool out the back is still working so it can’t be a bad posting. They’ve been good to let us in here, and I was embarrassed earlier when there had been some friction. I’ve become Mr Fix It, smoothing out problems, whether they be with squiggly Arab passports or my bosses not speaking the English that The Queen intended.
They were walking back and to the side of me now – Donald Levine, in his seventies and an eminent professor of the University of Chicago, was talking quietly with the evocative figure of Richard Strozzi Heckler. It was the latter’s ever so slightly shadowy military connections that had gotten us into the Ledra in the first place. Don is cerebral and leads from the head and gesticulates with his hands in a way which reveals his Jewish ethnicity. Richard is as composed and impressive as ever in his bearing. Don and Richard had thought this thing up and were both great men – the kind of eccentric over-achievers that wouldn’t let “can’t” and “impossible” get in the way of their plans. Philip Emminger the project manager is with them. I’d met him last year. Phil is a self-made millionaire, pilot and company managing-director. He was currently running around – a red haired, hyper-active whirlwind, counting the participants that had arrived so far. I‘m basically his gofer-tea-boy-bitch which is cool. On top of this logistical nightmare Philip is going through a difficult divorce that shows in his face under the activity and I’m happy to help even if I’m more than a bit out of my depth. I get the impression I’m leaning leadership the hard way, but at least from some good teachers.
I’d been here for a week before the other organizers arrived and knew Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus, as well as any foreigner. I was useful as I had one luxury that the other vastly more experienced and talented team didn’t have – time. I was essentially an international martial arts bum of mystery and had been ecstatic about volunteering to spend a month here last year doing reconnaissance and another month now dotting t’s and crossing borders. Why I decided to do this is more complicated…enough for now to say it’s a big deal to me. There’s a divorce, a lost love and a wedding involved but this is too complicated already…
Now we were quite officially in the middle of nowhere. Outside the Ledra was the centre of the no-man’s land separating the North from the South. Called the “Green Line” after the colour that a British officer had hastily scrawled on a map in 1974, it was part of a UN policed buffer zone that ran the width of the island. It had only three crossing points and this was the main one. It ranged in width from a Berlin-style wall, to patches of land several kilometers wide. I‘d been taken to the old airfield that sat timeless in one such pocket. Caught in the fighting when the Turkish had invaded, it’s remained unused since – the airliner that had been shot down while trying to take off with the Cypriot President was still on the tarmac. Cyprus – legendary isle of Aphrodite – goddess of love – had been torn in two and left that way for 30 years.The ever-present Mediterranean dust had settled but embodied racial hatred and machine gun towers bristling fear had too. Philip and I had seen a young couple parting on the line a few nights ago. A Greek-Turkish Romeo and Juliet tearing asunder entwined vines of energy to go their separate ways. It was heart-breakingly beautiful. Both sides are involved in this project although one practices in secret due to government restrictions.
To the north is the Turkish speaking part of the island, labeled “illegal occupied territory”, or, “The Republic of Northern Cyprus” depending on your race of view. The international community generally went along with the former, but as Turkey was a tactically positioned, well-armed Muslim NATO member, nothing was done about it. To the south is the Greek speaking new EU member – Cyprus. Rich by comparison to the north, and at least on the surface more democratic. We’d crossed from there before entering the Ledra for initial meetings and introductions. Usually bored looking guards with a lax sweaty uniforms just waived you though – sometimes they checked passports and bags for tax-free contraband on the way back – but nothing heavy. In the last year things had become much more relaxed and now locals as well as foreigners could cross over to see the other side, but there was still the sense that things could go wrong and fierce hostility was clearly a habit for some. Sometimes you’d get a guard that would give you a hard time for no apparent reason. The feeling was that by visiting the North you legitimised it as an entity. The vibe of Nicosia was both edgy and relaxed; cultured and violent. It was like a dozing tiger, well groomed but with bloody whiskers and a pile of bones by its side.
Bouncing by my side is Tesfaye – a new friend from Ethiopia – all black muscles and white teeth. Don suggested I look after him – this being his first time in Europe and Don probably had some cunning long-term plan in mind. We’ve been sharing a room and manically making final arrangements over the last few days. It’s like having a sidekick except he’s taller and better looking which isn’t the way these things should work. He’s incredibly athletic and charming as a bunch of roses wrapped in black silk. This Cyprus adventure is the most mind-blowing thing I’ve done, and for him it must even stranger. Don’s a professor of Ethiopian studies amongst other things and Tesfaye – meaning “new hope” is the first East Africa to study the martial art of aikido – the misshapen spine of this story. Tesfaye is also part of a circus troupe that teaches AIDS awareness. So far so weird right? …That’s is one of Richard’s jokes.
So what is aikido anyway? (Pronounced “eye-key-dough”) About time that got explained. Ask me on different days and I’ll give you different answers. When I first started training I loved defining it – now I hate to break it down. The stock answer which is on one level correct and on another entirely wrong, is that it is a non-violent Japanese martial art, consisting of joint locks, throws and strikes. It looks like a circular, relaxed dance when done well – by people in pajamas and black hakama (basically a Samurai skirt). Some would say the object of aikido is resolving conflicts without force or aggression, others would say that it was just a way of beating people up – so the non-violent bit is open to interpretation. For most people who practice it seriously though, it is a “do”, or way of life – something far more than a hobby.
All the people walking through the Green Line now practice aikido. A few are relatively new to it; many are the senior instructors in their countries. Most of the top aikido guns in the Middle East are here – meeting for the first time on neutral ground. This is the start of the Training Across Borders project – a novel attempt to build bridges between the aikido communities of nations in conflict. Peace through fighting if you will – it’s an odd beautiful, twisted paradox that’s been the focus of my life for the last year – I hope it works out with every cell of my body.
There are others from further afield here too. To my left is Jose Bueno – one of Brazil’s top aikido teachers. The aptly named “Mr Good” in Portuguese has a polished bald head, relaxed as a Sunday morning cuddle and carries a face full of Brazilian warmth. He’s jogging ahead and spinning around to take pictures of the crowd that’s walking behind us. I’m a shaken, stirred Molotov of emotions, enclosed in a bottle of concentrated alertness. I turn round to see what Jose’s clicking at and view the group as a whole for the first time. I’m guiding our strange group across to the other side and it’s a real buzz. This is where I’m most alive, this is what I’m good at, this is where I’m meant to be. Hairs on my neck tingle and my I can feel my heart pulse life, leadership and joy around my body.
Jose is calling to Miles Kessler – along with Richard Miles seems the most serene – as well as an aikido instructor chiseled from years in the tough Japanese rural dojo of Iwama, he’s also a meditation teacher. Rumor has it he spent 10 years up a mountain in Tibet or was in 12 years in the jungles of Burma? Wherever it was it shows now on the slight Buddha-smile lounging on his weapons platform of a frame. we all embody our history and practices especially when it matters most.
Between bombed out houses where only cats dare to tread, to light, to smart and to careful to set-off land-mines – our colourful group ambles forwards. I take a moment to beam with happiness and pride at the picture. I’ve been working up to today for a year and I feel in my body and mind being in “the zone” – the demilitarized zone my unconscious puns when I notice this. A part of the mind really doesn’t care, but the soul does. My Scottish counterpart Jim asks me a question in his rolling glen accent and I’m blagging the answer before he’s finished. I should have a deep fear now but I don’t. I’m walking with a multi-national sack of human TNT on my back to the border of a dodgy dictatorial domain and I’m grinning like the first dog to lick its balls. It could all go horribly wrong at any minute – it almost has several times but I know…every lil thing, is gonna be alright. Don’t worry. Bout a thing. My sandals flip flap flop through the dust.
We’d decided to have our first meal together at the old Press Club. This building’s in a unique geographical and political position, in that depending on whether it has the front or back doors open – it is located in the north or the UN zone. We’d hoped to get in the back door and save the hassle of getting nearly a hundred people from Dodgylookslikeaterroristostan across the border. In what I’ve learnt is Cypriot style however the restaurant had decided (been told?) an hour ago that this couldn’t happen. I’d been yattering to border guards with help from Damianos the South Cypriot aikido teacher and apparently it’s not going to be a problem. They’d checked out the list of 18 nationalities I said would be present and it was fine. Given the list I’m not sure how they worked this out, but they claimed they’d even put on more staff to ease the crowd. I wasn’t totally convinced, having lost a some trust in Cypriot reliability, but somehow I still feel confident. As the group approaches the last border I feel great in fact – life itself flowing through me and bursting out of every pore. This is one of the peak moments of my life and I’m savoring it, I should write a book about this shit.
Everything about the border says NO! It looks like a blockade but we’re an unstoppable mass of yes. We walk past red and black signs boasting of permanence and threatening no compromise – they feel like the past – King Canute ordering back the sea. We’re a tide washing towards something brighter – life always wins out. My eyes are wide and I must look medicated, but I’ve gone sane, fallen well and am breaking on the beach of a bigger vision. The borders disintegrate.
The Disowned Body
- June 2000 – Leeds, UK
The classroom is like all the others I have spent the last 17 years in – square, dead and dull. This is the culmination of a Western education – a presentation of a psychology dissertation on yet another grey rainy day. I’m standing out the front for a change and I see my course-mates looking back, the life having been almost entirely squeezed out of their ashen faces and limp disowned bodies. They’re a good enough bunch, they’ve just been taught to be in their heads since they were kids and now apparently we’re all done and ready for the world. I jump with sarcastic joy. Not literally of course.
One face looks very different however, my best friend Rachel’s in the front row. She’s beaming, her face as ever framed by her bouncy long dark hair – she holds the happy hopeful part of us. Her eyes are bright and body full of vigor from all the dancing, hugging and loving. I think she likes me in my suit – normally I’m scruffy, hungover and barely washed but today I thought I’ make an effort just to be radical. It’s partly because I like messing with expectations and partly because I don’t want what I have to say to be ignored because of my normal appearance. Her smile lights me up and gives me confidence.
I grin like a fox that just stole your dinner and begin my presentation on “the psychology of aikido and the meaning it has in practitioners lives”. Leeds is a typical UK academic psychology department and talking about meaning and embodied practices is not normal here. It’s taboo in fact. People have already started to look confused. My the time I’ve shared some beautiful pictures, a poem and suggested people pay attention to their posture while listening the audience are actually scratching their heads like bemused robot cartoon characters. No it’s not in there…that’s my point.
The people in front of me aren’t aware of their bodies – why would they be, they don’t see them as relevant. As one PhD friend said to me, “My body is just a cart that carries my head around.”
I go on to talk about the embodied learning so missing for the educational system, how people find aikido and other embodied practices so enriching as a result, make a passionate case for how this type of knowing is needed in the world describing the things that can go wrong when it’s not. Someone asks to see my statistics. Rachel put her head in her hands for a moment, shakes her hair and then goes back to smiling at me. I’m give it all that I’ve got and it’s clearly not landing – impassive blank gazes stare back at me like cows who have been shown a Kandinsky. It’s not that these guys are’t clever – they’re too clever in fact – it’s that I’m speaking another language. I’m on about another kind of clever. I feel depressed, there’s a smattering of applause like a emphysema sufferers last breath and I go sit down. Rachel gives me a hug, a wet kiss on the cheek and my tense shoulders a little squeeze.
I wonder where I can go now, the job’s fair last month was even worse. Just as disembodied and with values I couldn’t relate to. I left in tears after speaking to people who thought they could buy my life for trinkets. I’m heading off backpacking for a bit in South America, then maybe head down to Brighton and see what’s going on down there, I hear it’s a little more alive and the aikido’s good. Maybe I’ll work with kids again, I like how vibrant they are, but to be honest the future looks pretty bleak, more cerebral concrete-grey getting by…
The Body of Love
– February 27 1996, Long Road 6th-Form College, Cambridge UK
A golden sun is sinking as we walk hand in hand into the little patch of woodland tucked behind our college. Light is shining through the trees and through us. Her hand is soft and alive feeling into me. We leave the functional modernist classrooms behind – square boxes of nothing.
We spend a long time just standing close appreciating each other through the heart and the senses. Both nervous and awestruck. I nestle my face in her long dark hair, smelling the blossom and time is nothing.
It’s the first day of spring and we kiss our first kiss. It’s not like anything I’ve experienced. Sally’s my first love, my true love – the love of my life. I hold her as the most precious, beautiful person in the world. I lose where she ends and I begin. No bodily borders, no embodied boundaries – we dissolve into each other. Lose myself, gain the rest. One taste.
There’s light shining out of us and it’s good. I’m alive for the first time in my life. Life life life life life – gushing through our bodies. I feel whole, unified, with her, myself and the divine – a stranger no longer. I’m home. I disappear.
I can’t express it, words are too crude This is a forever dream. Love.
The Body of Choice
– 1st September, 2004, Devon, UK
I look out of the door of my cabin in the woods to a sodden, English morning. Raindrops sag from the trees outside like the breasts of obese women; or overworked men in armchairs, apathetic from defeat.
I’ve managed to drag my hungover corpse out of bed – every poisoned cell is telling me to get right back in though. Outside looks about as inviting as a kick in the head from Bruce Lee. I need paracetamol, 8 hours more sleep and 5 pints of orange juice. I don’t feel like leaving the comfort of this womb to go out there: but I know I need to, and badly. Back is a ind of death no matter how appealing.
I’ve been working at Barton Hall Outdoor Activity Centre for the past two summers, and with the company that owns it for two years on and off before that. It’s an English stately home surrounded by holiday chalets. It’s normally populated by 600 visiting school children and nestled in rolling green hills and classic English forest. With its laughing youngsters and scampering wildlife it’s an inch from heaven. With its restrictive rules, Victorian working hours and canteen slop it’s an inch from hell. I give a grunt of a laugh – at the end of the upcoming journey I’m guessing I’ll have a new standard for those two places.
I’ve been a “multi-activity instructor” here, along with about 100 other young people. We teach the kids teamwork, leadership, adventure sports and environmental studies, a through the body, movement and games. In the little time we have off we play harder than coked-up pirates sailing the last days of the world. During the day we’re the brightly uniformed care-bear, educators and role models, at night we drink and fuck till Bacus blushes.
Living here’s been lots of fun. It’s an island away from the real world™. I’ve hidden out here and places like it, over the last few years since University. It’s a job and a life. The food, money and hours suck monkey balls, but the work’s satisfying, and as I mentioned – the social life’s colourful. I’ve got comfortable here though – got good at what I do, and despite a few problems with the management (i.e. my attitude) I’ve even been promoted. But there’s an incestuous claustrophobia, an inward looking prison-camp feel – everyone complains about it, and many leave. In fact, dissatisfaction is a fine art in the company – they know how many instructors to hire so the bell curve drops off in line with the falling numbers of guests in the school holidays and autumn. It’s running you down as capitalist efficacy – if staff didn’t want to leave the wage bill would soon be too high.
The beautiful vegan design student I was seeing left a month ago because she couldn’t stand the food and the crap. That was a real shame – I liked her a lot, but we were at different stages in life. She was on her way to study art at University and I‘m done with school. With her long dark hair and dolphin back she was too beautiful for me anyway really, and I knew that when she left she wouldn’t look back.
We all stay in a relationship, jobs or whatever, long after we know when enough’s enough. People are too sacred to walk out of open cages. Sometimes people have kids to feed and debts to pay, so maybe they’re really trapped, but mostly it’s an stupid illusion. It’s just a lack of non-monkey balls and people resent you if you still have them. When I’m traveling and staying at dojos between work seasons, I meet people daily who hate me for making the choice they won’t. It underlines their cowardice. Society’s built on the shiny idea of freedom, not the reality of it. Easy Rider 101.
So I’m on the edge of the cage door again. This is the hard bit. My old rucksack, hastily packed, battered from continual traveling is at my side. I haven’t put it on yet and really don’t have to. I could go back to bed, see the boss later and tell him I’ve changed my mind and I’m staying till winter. “No problem Mark, you’re always welcome here (just don’t rock the boat again)”.
I do what the cliché recommends not to do and look back. There’s a bundle of curves and golden hair half covered by my duvet. Like a dormouse she’s squirming and reaching out in her sleep to my side of the bed. She’s making small groaning noises which are really very cute. She’s not the woman I love but she’s a good friend and the words “soft” and “warm” come to mind when I look at her.
The centre’s deathly quiet, today being one of the few “kids-free” days, and as a result last night’s party being of Gomorrahic proportions. The mist and rain outside mingle forming the one season that comes and goes when it pleases in England – acceptable apathy, resignation and quietly damp complaint. Here on the south-west coast the sun will probably come up before my hungover friends, and burn through the mist for a pleasant enough coffee on the hillside. But right now it’s 5.45 am and decision time. Who are these weird Yank aikido people anyway? I don’t know them? Training Across Borders? Crossing “Green Lines”? It sounds stupid and dangerous!
I posted a note on the internet a few months back saying that I would be going to Cyprus for my sister’s wedding next year and did anyone know of any aikido clubs there? (I like to practice my hobby when I travel to meet local people.) This was passed on by about ten people until it ended up on the Mac of Don Levine at the University of Chicago. I remember the mail from Don popping up on my screen one night in the labs here. It was like a magic jewel from the future, or a secret treasure map. In the pictures Don is like a Gandolf or an Obi Wan, face weathered an old, wrinkles like ravines but eyes sparkling light a naughty kids. I stared at the e-mail and held my breath for at least 10 minutes before I opened it. OK, maybe not ten minutes, but long enough to feel the pterodactyls in my stomach do a few turns.
I’ve heard his name as he was President of a non-profit organization called Aiki Extensions, but he was a big-shot and I’d never had contact with him before. AE applied the principles of my beloved aikido to “off-mat” situations. It was an international network of people who used the martial art as tool for harmony, rather than as an end in itself. I did my psychology dissertation on a similar theme some years ago, just before AE was established, so it was right up my street.
Since I started aikido in ‘97 much of my energy has gone into it, and it’s much more than a hobby really. I’ve been traveling since I graduated, mainly working with children for a living, which I also care a lot about. Aikido has been my other passion in that time – a golden thread running through a whirlwind flotsam life. Wherever I travel I pack my gi (aikido pajamas – pro.”gee”) and bokken (wooden sword sometimes used in aikido). I’ve trained all over the UK, in South America, Ireland, Denmark and Italy. Aikido is an international community and it’s great having something in common with people, even if you can’t speak their language. The idea of Training Across Borders struck a skull with me as soon as I heard about it and I became an ardent supporter.
People in aikido talked about peace and love, it was part of the new-age philosophy that sometimes went along with it, but for most it was just lip-service. Here were a group actually embodying something worthwhile and interesting with aikido and I could be a part of it. I’d always seen aikido as more than just twisting arms and throwing people around, and now I was in contact with the experts who felt the same way. The British Isles had lots of technically goods aikido, but it often lacked this broader perspective – I’d traveled the length and breadth of the UK for the last eight years searching, and felt like I was unfortunately one of the most knowledgeable in “applied aikido” around these parts. By this I should stress that I don’t mean my aikido was any good, I could get my arse kicked in any major town (aikido takes a lifetime to get good at and doesn’t rely on the athleticism of youth) – but that the side of it I was interested in wasn’t that developed in my part of the world.
Don and I got chatting by e-mail and it became apparent that AE after steady growth through conferences in the US and Germany, was planning its first big project in Cyprus. There had been talk of an Israeli/Arab get together in Turkey last year but that had fallen through after some comments about nuclear weapons on the web and a Turkish government intervention. AE had almost given up at that point but had decided to have one last crack at it in Cyprus – another neutral venue – but this time backed by the UN.
Looking through the organizers my name was appropriately bottom of an extremely impressive list. UN General such and such, Professor blah, Sensei (Japanese for teacher) X, etc. Richard Strozzi Heckler and Paul Linden were in there, the world leaders in the field I was reinventing the heard way in the UK. I’d grown up in aikido reading their books. Richard’s taught aikido to US Special Forces, co-founded a school of bodywork and a leadership academy; and had been made famous in aikido circles by an article describing his black belt test in near mystical terms. He was in my eyes, THE Man and as he was co directing this project with Professor Levine, I would get to meet him. This was extremely exciting to me though in the back of my mind was a curse I’d once had aimed at me, “May you meet you heroes and may your dreams come true.”
Over the last few months the scope of Training Across Borders had widened and I got mind blowing e-mails every day. When I heard the Iraqi’s were coming, I had two thoughts: 1. Cool! 2. Shit! It sounded like it was going to be one tyranochallenge, and even sitting behind a keyboard in Devon I felt out of my depth. Wobbling now, reestablishing the exact angle of up every few seconds, my confidence wasn’t exactly high.
Through the post Stella/vodka haze I have a moment of clarity – This is the point where you have to extend yourself Walsh. This is where you have to say a quick prayer, jump into the abyss and hope God or fate or whatever takes care of things. Gotta leave home to find it. Gotta leave what’s comfortable to grow. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. You’ve always landed on your feet before Mark…All that cliched crap.
My sister had decided that she would like to get married in Cyprus. God knows why – maybe the romantic Aphrodite thing, maybe to escape the rain and irritating distant relatives, who knows? It was her day anyway so she could do what she liked as far as I was concerned. She’d been engaged for years to a guy called Paul. I liked him – a solid Northern bloke, and aside from being a Manchester United supporter he was a good man who treated her well. They hooked up at my “Shiny Touchy Feely Party” (don’t’ ask) in Leeds while I was a student. She danced on a wall with my best friend Rachel and that was that.
The reason they’d been engaged for over six years was party lack of money I think, but also to do with my parents. Mum Dad had gone through a nasty divorce not long after Marianne and Paul’s engagement, and it had messed everyone up some. Marianne had had serious rows with Paul – lost her faith in marriage I guess – and I’d hit the bottle harder than a George Best birthday bash. I almost failed my university finals but luckily had aikido and used that and the support of good friends to get back on track. Despite my head this morning I’m way better these days, I owe aikido my life. She almost lost her man, but bounced back too. People are resilient – even (big) kids.
Marianne and I were always pretty close – well since I decided that hitting girls was wrong at age 10 – by age 12 she’d stopped hitting me too – and now we’re really tight. I’d decided that while I didn’t see her as often as I would have liked with work and travel – I could support this wedding now that it was finally happening. I’d gotten a job for another activity company I worked with sometimes in Cyprus in October – my reasoning was to get a couple of days off and check of Marianne’s arrangements – I was kinda concerned to be honest as she’d booked most of it online and it sounded like a bit of a gamble. In the end the work got moved to Tunisia for no good reason but by that time I was involved with Training Across Borders so decided to go to Cyprus anyway – sometimes you gotta follow the signs and make a choice. I’d help Marianne and some guy called Phil Emminger who was the project’s manager. I couldn’t really afford too – Cyprus didn’t sound cheap and the flight was over a month’s wages – but it didn’t matter. I just knew I was doing the right thing. An opportunity to help my only sister just happens to coincide with an event that represents exactly what I believe in – obvious really. Sometimes I refind the river running through my life that I loose track of with all of the busy world’s bullshit. It’s easy to ignore the flow, especially as from the banks safety its rapids look scary, but to do so is a kind of death. Some decisions give you some major hints they need to be made, but you’ve still got to make them.
I hoist my bag. Under the weight and self-inflicted chemical warfare – I feel like a diseased snail. I haven’t worn the pack in six months and it’s awkward, but I know that “this too shall pass”. I take a deep breath – aikido’s best technique maybe – relax and the bag sinks onto my hips where it belongs. This is the life that I’ve chosen – how many people can honestly say that. I’m Frank Sinatra and I’m singing in the rain.
I grumble a little song and hop out of the door into the river.